A Little Too Soon...
for this, which was written a year ago for just *after* Christmas, but here it is anyway
No melancholic sentiment at my fellows packing the season away too soon at the moment, as everything’s just gloriously getting underway.
Joy, joy, joy!
This is what it looks like outside my house right now, and I’m not even bothered about the fact that I’m going to have to carve out a driveway path for my car to get through to go pick up the kids, or that the trucks haven’t yet cleared the street:
I see the link to the choir of French monks in the piece is now private, so here’s this instead (same abbey):
Below is a very slightly longer version of the piece linked above.
“To Keep It All the Year”: A Resolution
A friend recently told me he was happy the holiday season was over. “Too much pressure,” he said. “To get the right gift, to have everything go just as everyone wants. I’m glad to get back to normal!” He sighed with palpable relief.
He is a good friend. I could not have disagreed more with him.
I want the Christmas season to last all year.
The glorious escape from work means, of course, no work, something to be celebrated all on its own merit. But more importantly it means I get to be at home, with my wife and my children, the people on this planet who mean the most to me.
I spent wonderful time with my youngest the last two weeks reading the books and playing the games she received for Christmas. I talked into the night with my oldest about her college dreams and about how to deal with the constant pressure the world exerts on us to make us conform to practices we know in our hearts are not humanly redeeming.
I also spent time learning how to play some snatches of Bach (alas, neither sufficient time nor talent for more!) and reminding myself how to play all the Christmas music that I fervently play once a year for a few weeks and then, with the return of the workaday world, leave for the coming year.
I prayed the Salve Regina, and I listened to the monks at the French Abbey at Saint-Martin de Ligugé perform Gregorian chant. I tried to calm myself down from my normal hyperactive, hyper-stressed state of being long enough to reflect on the coming of light into the world.
And I reread A Christmas Carol, something I try to do every year. Dickens is a writer I cherish, and this story will always be close to my heart, given its near omnipresence in the now-extinct American culture in which I grew up half a century ago.
I see that, in the warped spirit of the present time, there are now those who denounce both the story and its writer as insufficiently woke, though, to their credit, even some Marxists recognize the deep humanity in his work. Astoundingly, some with overactive imaginations and poor reading skills have managed to find the portrayal of Scrooge and Marley in the story as anti-Semitic, though this requires not discerning that Scrooge’s family are Christians and Marley’s ghost refers to both himself and his living partner as “Christian spirits.” Apparently, an artistic depiction of a miserly, uncompassionate Christian is an object unimaginable for some eager to find racial and religious offense everywhere they look.
There are many passages in A Christmas Carol that I could recite by heart, and many others I have not committed to memory that nonetheless move me to tears every time I reread them. The unbearably sad image the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gives Scrooge to witness of Bob Cratchit, when he breaks down exclaiming “My little, little child! My little child!” and then climbs the stairs to the room where the body of his son Tiny Tim lies in the bed, and bends to kiss his face, is heartbreaking. And yet Cratchit’s faith allows him to reconcile himself to the dreadful fact and to come downstairs to the living members of his family to proclaim how even this awful thing will teach them to be better Christians:
“And I know,” said Bob, “I know, my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”
“No, never, father!” they all cried again.
“I am very happy,” said little Bob, “I am very happy!”
The entire episode is as moving, and as deeply consonant with the spirit of the teaching of Cratchit’s faith, as any that exists in literature.
But the passage I have kept in my mind this year is that in which Scrooge declares on waking from the last visitation his promise of the moral lesson he has learned: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me.”
All the year, in the past, the present, and the future. To keep the spirit of those lessons not just on Christmas Day, or during the holiday season, but every day and always. To always remember that we are oriented at once to three worlds and three communities of our beloved fellows: those once here and now gone, those who will one day be, and those with whom we currently live.
In this short statement, Dickens has summarized a Christian life project, perhaps impossible to keep to with perfection, but to which we can return, however falteringly, after deviating and forgetting.
The day after Christmas, the very day after, there was evidence that a substantial number of neighbors apparently shared my friend’s sentiment about the holiday. They had already taken down their trees and deposited them on the street in front of their homes for trash collection.
I find it unbearably sad to see that every year.
Yes, I know that practical matters require that the trees come down at some point. But we are keeping our tree up, and our lights as well, for a little while longer. And when we too take ours down, I am going to try to remember Scrooge’s words even beyond that.
And also those of Bob Cratchit. This year, his reflection on his son made me immediately think of my own little child, who lovingly takes the hand of her friend every morning as the two of them walk in merrily to school together.
For the Spirits of all three strive more profoundly within us when we become as little children.